Rebirth of a Distillery
Prohibition is so far removed from our living memory that it’s hard to comprehend just how devastating or long-lasting the adverse effects from it lasted, or took to come fully about. Before prohibition, distilleries were common. Whiskey was considered a universal medicine by many folks. And, there was even a science to drinking while working in the fields. Drink enough not to feel like the sun is burning you alive while not getting so drunk you cut off your foot. To keep up with this demand, there were a lot of people making a lot of liquor. Then prohibition came along and pretended that this considerable demand didn't exist.
We all know how Anheuser Busch and Jack Daniels switched over to making cola or other non-alcoholic things during these dark days, but many distilleries couldn’t weather the storm. And after the federal level prohibition ended, many of the states instituted their own moralist authority and enacted a more local form of prohibition. Between that and the three-tier distribution system, many doors were closed. Not all deaths were quick either.
One slow death of note was a distillery operated by Col. E.H. Taylor starting in 1887 and later acquired by Schenley Industries, a large national liquor maker, under the National Distillers label. It shut down in 1975 and was left to ruin. It isn’t just the end of a distillery operation that made this so tragic. It marked the end of something beautiful. That was until Will Arvin, and Wes Murry hatched a plan everyone called nuts to bring it back to glory. They rechristened the old distillery Castle & Key.
Every distillery has something to offer which is unique and exciting, apart from their booze. Some, however, seem to go that extra mile by giving us something that no other place does. Castle & Key could have been made into about anything, and still be a place worth visiting. The distillery looks like a castle – a real castle. This isn’t a mockup made with stucco and forms. This is real stone, real mortar, and authentic atmosphere. Plus, it was built in the 19th century, so there is some natural aging that only adds to the mystique and beauty of the place inside and out.
Castle & Key also shows that a craft distillery isn’t only about making hooch. It was rebuilt with the idea of tourism in mind. It wouldn't just be the liquor that they produce that brought in visitors, but the place itself. The early years of a distillery's life don't exactly equate to rolling in the dough. It takes years for the whiskey to mature, which can make the first few years a bit lean. So Arvin and Murry made their distillery more than just a please where spirits are made. Another way Castle & Key made money was to rent out their warehouse space so that other small distilleries who didn’t have the room could age more of their spirits.
Castle & Key isn’t a case of style over substance either, or worse, a gimmick masquerading as a product. It’s still too new to offer us any bourbons at the moment, but it does give us some amazingly fragrant and soft gin and vodka that is good served neat. With what they’ve done so far, I can’t wait to see what they’ll have in the years to come.
The story behind Castle & Key is one that many craft distillers can relate to. It all began with a vision that something amazing could be made within those old walls. Seeing that vision start to bloom didn’t come easy or cheap. The property had been abandoned since the mid 70’s, and looked like something from Mad Max meets Braveheart. Even in its dilapidated state, the new owners had to pay almost a million for it. With a ton of smart planning and hard work, it was remade into the marvel it is today.